Sunday, 1 April 2012

Storytelling Sunday: The sixth form

For Sian's Storytelling Sunday, I've pulled one out of the archives of the school stories.  I wrote it a year ago, but it's time to share now as I can look back without wanting to wring the necks of those involved.  As a teacher, they frown upon that.

This week, the old Year 13 came back to school to tell the current Year 12 about how awesome life at university is.  Fair play.  I exchanged wry smiles with my old students, with whom I used to do battle on a thrice-weekly basis over their staggering indifference to mathematics.  Why pick A-level mathematics if you're not keen on studying it?

"Do you have any classes like us now Miss?  You miss us don't you?"

"Yup, it's like a pain..."

They grinned "Yeah!"

"...Has been removed"

They didn't believe me. "Yeah but miss, it was classic though wasn't it? You LOVED our classes really."

"They were....special."

Despite my protestations, they are convinced irrevocably that they were charming and amusing.  They were not.  They were frustrating.  And so here's what I wrote about them at the time.


Fact of the Day

I have (unfortunately) a particularly arrogant set of Year 13 students.  They constantly attempt to trip me up, prove me wrong and throw me off balance. And they've done this for almost two years.

Teaching them is hard work. They found themselves flung from the comfortable, and, for them, easy world of GCSE into the troublesome land of the A-level. For the first time in their lives, they had to try hard at maths. They had to struggle. And they got things wrong. Do they embrace this in a mature way, exerting themselves to work harder to achieve success?


You didn't think they were going to, did you? It's much easier for them to blame pretty much anything else they can think of instead of admitting that they need to, y'know, try. Perhaps they're worried that, although hard work aint killed anyone yet, they might be the first victims. Whatever it is, they avoid working at any cost, don't seem to recognise the link between doing no practice and getting bad grades and persist in the idea that it will all come good in the end. Their behaviour has been what I might expect from considerably younger boys enhanced by a stroppy belief that they're doing me a favour by coming to the lessons.

They're mistaken. I LOVE it when they don't come.

'Fact of the Day' has arisen from one of the worst of the lot.

Student1: Alright, shhh, let's see if she knows this one.

The hubbub dies down.

Student 1: Miss, what makes the loudest noise in the ocean?

Me: It's shrimps. They all tap their little tentacles together and make air bubbles and it makes a huge racket that can interfere with submarines, it's so loud. Anything else...? No...? Good. Back to work.

They weren't really sure what to make of this.

Eventually, curiosity overcomes this particular specimen of teenagerhood and he enquires how I knew the answer.

Me: I knew the answer the same way you did: I saw that episode of QI last night on TV.

This won me a grudging grin and another fraction of an inch in the constant battle for respect.

S: QI is bear sick.

This is 6th-former speak and it means "QI is very good". My life became a tiny bit easier.


The second fact of the day was a couple of lessons later.

S: Alright miss, I've got another one for you.

When the students say "Alright", they don't pronounce any of the consonants. It comes out sounding a bit like "Aaaawwwaaaiirrr". I know because they practised with me. To get it really "street".  And in case you're wondering, 'street' is not  word that you should put air quotes around.

S: OK, so in one hand I've got a loaded gun and in the other hand I've got a bullet which is identical to the one in the gun. At exactly the same time, I fire the gun horizontally and drop the bullet. Which one hits the floor first.

Me: They both hit the floor at exactly the same time.

S: Why?

Me: Because the vertical component of the forces acting on both bullets is identical: they both fall under gravity with force mg.

S: How did you know that?

Me: I did A-level physics and I've studied mechanics.

S: Oi, D. You do physics so how come you didn't know?

Other student shrugged noncommittally. So far, it's 2-0 to me.


Over time, fact of the day has extended from QI tidbits to logic puzzles, physics questions and even good old-fashioned riddles. And it's become more of a joke, to see how long I can keep up, rather than a test of my authority. Almost a measure of their respect for me. Maybe I do know what I'm talking about, although I definitely don't know everything. For example, the capital cities quiz was an epic fail. Although I was spared the humiliation of bad guesses, unlike the student who announced that Burma was the capital of Vietnam.

However, it was never about knowing everything. It was about taking not knowing things well. It was about taking time to think about these challenges and acknowledging their minds and intellect. About returning their respect when (if?!) they knew something I didn't. Some were extremely well informed when it came to capital cities.

Teaching this class has been a very long road. It's the most frustrating battle I've fought and while I've won the war, I have definitely lost the odd battle (and my temper) along the way. In teaching, you have to hold onto your temper as hard as you can with both hands and your teeth if necessary because if you lose that, you lose everything. They want you to lose your rag. It's a sort of perverse form of entertainment, it means they've got to you. But attempting to provoke someone who is maddeningly calm all the time is extremely boring and they give up.

In a few weeks' time, they will go on study leave and that's the last I shall see of them, except maybe on results day. I shan't miss the lessons much. I may have already mentioned that they were hard work? Slightly battle scarred, having learned a lot but none the worse for wear, I shall take on the next bunch. Bring it on!


Now, pop along to Sian's blog to read more stories.  There's some amazing stuff out there :D

Kisses xxx

P.S. Stay tuned to hear about the Second Annual Tea Potter which took place yesterday.  Good pictures, good times.


  1. Really enjoyed your post. Thanks for a very entertaining story. Now a follower...

  2. i love ur fab stories. it takes me back to the horrid grp of A2 level students I had one year for a caring profession. They were the least caring lot I had ever met and it still amazes me they got away with being so rotten. Many of them have succeeded in their professions and I am glad for them but I will never forget the hard times they gave me. It is reassuring that you came through unscathed unlike me who gave up on that line of work,
    Jo xxx

  3. I love reading your stories ~ hooray for teachers like you!

  4. Wow... sounds like a couple of years to forget! Though, in a way, I suppose you don't want to - after all, both they and you did learn things during those lessons. I am sure you taught those boys a whole lot more than just A level Mathematics, Miss Smith! Well done to you!
    And well done too, for such a great story - you are an excellent storyteller and I love to read your tales of school life.

  5. They don't make all teachers like you, do they?! Another cracker of a story as we come to that time of the year again - it's years, oh, many years since I did my A Levels and yet I still get that strange "ending" feeling every year. Thanks for the story - it's a pleasure as always!

  6. Ahh the apathy of sixth formers. I am in the opposite position and actually have the brightest and most hard working bunch for lit a-level. Although now course work deadlines are drawing they seem to think that by telling me how intelligent I am I will somehow agree to edit 400 words from their essays - ummm no!

  7. I have great admiration for anyone who can do a full classroom, there have been a few tutorial students I was glad when their parents decided to remove them for whatever reason...

  8. I really enjoyed you post. I take my hat off to you because I couldn't do the job you do, I've got one teenager and that's bad enough!

  9. I love your school stories. Maybe it's because I work in a school that I can so visualise everything you say. I think Year 13s are the same the world over, they are really ready to leave school by this time of year and everyone at school is ready for them to go too! What you do miss is their characters and their confidence that they really do know it all (ahem)and their personalities.
    You sound like a teacher with real street cred!

  10. I'm sure your students will always remember you and your classes Miss Smith! I love to read your stories and it was nice to hear that you could refer back to what you wrote about them at the time xx

  11. fabulous, as always.

  12. Another great batch of School them!
    Alison xx

  13. As a non-teacher, I love this very intimate look into what your days are like!

  14. Half the battle with kids is keeping your calm and I struggle with my 4 monkeys so how you cope with a class full of teens I don't know x

  15. Love your school stories! They always make me giggle :)

  16. Hurrah for maddeningly calm - you are clearly a saint! Beautifully and entertainingly, and poignantly written. If only they knew ...

  17. I am so looking forward to your book of school stories being published! They always make me smile and I am v impressed by so much (mostly that you can teach a level maths as that must be way hard!)